Chatting shop: the importance of developing ourselves

Charlotte Pratley, Director at Culture Syndicates CIC, reveals the ideas behind Culture Now and requests your help in creating this new support network.

Many years ago, a group of tenacious museum lovers formed a group to support their career development. Those individuals went on to become some of the most influential people in our sector, including David Fleming, Director of Liverpool Museums. At the famously bleak end of 2016, a new support group was born. We even managed a Chinese and a tour of Manchester Museum from 5 year olds taking part in Museum Takeover day.

Like many CPD activities, chatting shop with old and new heritage buddies couldn’t be directly attributed to revenue so I’d had to argue my case to go. Yet, as I’m reminded every time I step out from behind my desk, the inspiration and knowledge exchange that comes with making connections was invaluable for my personal and professional development. Naturally, that extends to my organisation as I bring new ideas and perspectives back to the office.

As the sector settles into its post-recession form, we’re learning that a dynamic, networked and entrepreneurial workforce is needed. Character Matters found that the resilient museum of the future will depend on nurturing workforce cultures of curiosity and self-efficacy yet the most commonly cited reason for workers not accessing Career and Professional Development (CPD) opportunities is “I am too busy/I have no time.” 71% of heritage workers self-initiated their CPD in full or partly despite low confidence across the industry in career development (1).

Google spend millions on developing and retaining their workforce. Admittedly, their 2015 turnover was almost nine times that of the UK heritage tourism sector but we need to learn some lessons on good business here. They found five common elements of high performing teams (2 & 3):

  • Psychological safety (being listened to and supported to fail openly)
  • Dependability (people can be relied upon)
  • Structure and clarity (everyone understands their roles, plans and goals)
  • Meaning (everyone has a clear sense of purpose)
  • Impact (everyone believes their work has a positive impact on the organisation)

In times of trouble, it’s not hard to understand why these suffer. However, creating an outstanding and relevant arts sector will rely on investing in workforce development. Funders and policymakers are giving us clear steer: projects that do not relate to diversifying and developing our workforce, in order to build solid businesses, will not be funded.

The Culture Now steering group are seeking to create the sustainable arts landscape of the future. We’re supported by our organisations and policymakers, including Arts Council England and the Museums Association. Our organisations are making significant changes on a local scale. For example, Transport for London run fantastic programmes to develop freelance staff and recruit more diversely; Museum Development run training directly informed by a business diagnostics tool for museums; and Culture Syndicates undertake valuable consultancy work that act as paid training opportunities for sector entrants and beyond. But these deep programmes of engagement cannot support the broader heritage workforce.

In particular, we’ve noticed that emerging to mid-level career professionals lack support in heritage and the arts. Culture Syndicates’ interns reported a variety of struggles, such as how hard it is to form networks when you are starting out or coping with rejection from job applications. Fortunately, Alex has brought us together to address these such issues with the creation of Culture Now; a platform for emerging to mid-level creative professionals to make change; a network for support and knowledge sharing; and an advocate for better workforce development.

We want to signpost existing opportunities so that we aren’t duplicating activities. We want to elevate the needs of the workforce in policymakers’ agendas. We want to meet up, have a drink and chat culture. So what does that mean we do? Well, we’re not sure. We can tell you our opinions (and will hopefully get a chance to do so soon) but we’re aware that the best way to start is to better understand the problem. So over to you – what issues are affecting you in your career in the cultural sector?


  1. BOP Consulting & The Museum Consultancy, 2016. Character Matters: Attitudes, Behaviours and Skills in the UK Heritage Workforce [online]. Available at [Accessed 25.01.17]
  2. Dubner, J., 2016. How to be more productive (rebroadcast) [online]. Available at [Accessed 20.01.17]
  3. Ambler, G., 2016. Google identifies five norms that make up successful teams [online]. Available at [Accessed 20.01.17]
  4. Oxford Economics Ltd, 2016. The impact of heritage tourism for the UK Economy [online]. Available at file:///C:/Users/N0661672/Downloads/20160927_-_the_impact_of_heritage_tourism_on_the_uk_economy_-_final_repo.pdf [Accessed 25.01.17]
  5. Statistica, [date unknown]. Annual revenue of Google from 2002 to 2015 [online]. Available at [Accessed 25.01.17]

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